INTERVIEW: Nancy Medina and Inua Ellams on The Half God of Rainfall

Posted on: 7th March 2019

INTERVIEW: Nancy Medina and Inua Ellams on The Half God of Rainfall

From award-winning poet and playwright Inua Ellams (Barber Shop ChroniclesAn Evening With An Immigrant) comes a new myth.  The Half God Of Rainfall is a contemporary epic that weaves poetry and storytelling in a majestic journey that transports us from a tiny village in South West Nigeria to Mount Olympus, to the further reaches of our galaxy and beyond.

Inua Ellams and Director, Nancy Medina, sat down to discuss what audiences can expect from The Half God Of Rainfall and some of the inspiration behind the work.

Why did you write The Half God of Rainfall?

Inua: I wrote THE HALF GOD OF RAINFALL because I felt like there were questions, there were conversations waiting to happen. Men needed to ask themselves questions and they needed to find ways of having those conversations. They needed to ask questions about patriarchy, about religion within patriarchy and patriarchy within religion. Questions about how power is demarcated in society, about sports figures who we make heroes and in doing so we absolve them of all responsibility to their communities, to themselves, to their power and the spaces they occupy within society. I wanted to explore all those things with the tools that were available to me and with the cultures that were available to me, which were steeped in my Nigerian-hood, in my religious history and in the game of basketball.

What is The Half God of Rainfall about?

Nancy: In THE HALF GOD OF RAINFALL we follow the stories of two central characters, Modupe and Demi. Central to the story is Modupe, who embodies the story of women living under a male-dominated society. We explore different political hierarchies within the play between mortals and Gods. But central to this idea of a male-dominated society is ‘how do we change this?’. Do we work to change it? Or do we have to tear the whole system down and start anew?

What should audiences expect from The Half God of the Rainfall?

Inua: Audiences should expect a big story. A hugely powerful, joyful at times, desperately naked, human story. A human story about love, about power, about the relationship between a mother and child. They should expect movement, dance, song, an ‘other-worldly’ sense that governs this extremely basic, physical and grounded story. Expect to be taken to places, to see things and hear things that they have never really considered or been exposed to. Audiences should expect to be confounded almost, to be suspended and to be taken on a really huge journey.

What will the show look and feel like?

Nancy: It will feel elemental, atmospheric. Throughout the play we travel from rural Nigeria to the skies of Nigeria, to Mount Olympus and to space. It will feel epic.

What do you want audiences to come away thinking and feeling?

Inua: I think I’d like audiences to come away thinking that the world is infinitely more complex and operates in extremely nuanced ways. There are many personal access points to huge conversations that the world is having with itself. Those conversations are really close at hand and ones we should not be afraid to question, even if we don’t have all the jargon or all the tools to really engage with it fully. I think I want audiences to leave feeling closer to themselves.

Nancy: Well I think again that it is really central to the idea of how we affect change. You know, the story that we follow is of two ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, who are fighting for their self-worth and dignity. And it explores the idea that higher powers, whatever that may be, affect us all throughout the world, in the way that we’re governed. So that is something that we can think about, not just in the story that we are watching on stage. but how it affects us in real life. It allows us to question what we are willing to do in order to preserve our self-worth and dignity and have a better world.

What have you been influenced by in creating The Half God of Rainfall?

Inua: I’ve been influenced by everything from Greek mythology, films like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief to Space Jam, to The Golden State Warriors, particularly Stephen Curry. Everything from Thelma and Louise to Black Panther, though I wrote The Half God of Rainfall before the film came out. It’s a melding of cultures, worlds, films, stories and poems. The work of Major Jackson, the American poet, has hugely influenced me. The work of Mary Oliver, who recently passed away has hugely influenced me. The way she talked about nature and the closeness of it and how human beings should always attempt to document that closeness. She talked about how nature brings us closer to ourselves and the spiritual realms that govern the world in the most natural way possible. A mixture of these things gave rise to the story. But also, my sisters, my friends and all the women in my life who have created space for me to write the things that I have, and who have allowed me into their most personal experiences, all of which inspired this story.

What have you been influenced by in imagining the world of The Half God of Rainfall?

Nancy: There is so much in this play is unique and original. There are themes of basketball. We’re looking at Greek Gods and Orisha. There is so much imagery, music and so much to research within this work. There is also the movement of basketball and question of what that energy is. Within the play, there is a definitely a parallel between war and sport and how we are almost in an arena, battling different themes and ideas, which is very exciting and easy to draw inspiration from.

How does this project differ to Barber Shop Chronicles?

Inua: THE HALF GOD OF RAINFALL is vastly different to Barber Shop Chronicles. That work was set in six different African countries and in the United Kingdom, whereas The Half God of Rainfall is set exclusively in Nigeria, a little bit in the UK and in America. Both plays definitely deal with masculinity, they are both embedded and infused with stories of migration. But one operates in a very specific location, Barber Shop Chronicles happens in barber shops but THE HALF GOD OF RAINFALL is set on basketball courts, by rivers and streams in the heart of Nigeria, in Mount Olympus and in Outer-Space. Also, the way in which the story is told is very different, Barber Shop Chronicles happens entirely through conversation, men sitting in Barber Shops, but THE HALF GOD OF RAINFALL is a third-person narrative. It’s a story that is told, so it goes back to classic aural story telling from West-Africa. I wrote it in that vein, though it is mixed a lot with Greek Mythology, so it operates on various levels. Where Barber Shop is men talking to each other, in THE HALF GOD OF RAINFALL the Gods are often speaking directly to you so they are very different worlds. They both have music, both have movement, both have aspects of celebrating masculinity but also really critiquing it aswell. They are both joyous pieces of work, both moving, but on opposite ends of the spectrum of what I am able to create as a writer.

Who will this play appeal to?

Nancy: This play should appeal to young people. It should appeal to women. It should appeal to anyone who is interested in history, art or music. Anyone interested in the spiritual world beyond us, the super-natural. This will appeal to a really wide range of people.

People should come and see The Half God of Rainfall because it will be like no other show that they have ever seen. It mixes basketball, Orisha, Greek Gods and it mixes the skies over Nigeria and places us in extraordinary circumstances. It is a wonderful play.

The Half God Of Rainfall  is at Birmingham Repertory from the 13th to the 20th of April and then at Kiln Theatre from the 26th of April to the 17th of May. Click HERE for more details.